The Ivy's 'cafe' brand expansion continues apace, with this City opening in Spring 2017, in the picturesque Bishopgate Gardens, by St. Botolph church.
Harden's survey result
“Maybe the brand is a bit stretched”, but Richard Caring’s bold expansion is paying off by-and-large, certainly in commercial terms, and – though most branches’ average food-rating is run-of-the-mill – by the standards of large chains, the group delivers a consistent-enough formula, whereby folks accept predictable nursery fodder in return for a dependable dose of ‘affordable glamour’. The “beautiful and festive” Ivy Chelsea Garden (SW3) is the best known in the stable and it’s particularly “wonderful if you manage to get a table in their fabulous garden”. The “big and buzzy” Ivy Kensington Brasserie (W8) is less highly rated, but nevertheless fills a vital niche in the local market for a comfortable, atmospheric and versatile rendezvous (“its bar is also a fun place for a drink”). The City branches (The Ivy Tower Bridge, The Ivy City Garden EC2) and Canary Wharf outlet (The Ivy in the Park, E14) are the highest rated all-round (perhaps reflecting the ongoing lack of convivial spaces out east). “Awesome views” at Tower Bridge are distinct client-pleasers. Other branches taking above-average flak include The Ivy Soho Brasserie, W1 (“busy mayhem” with “slow and disorganised service”) and The Ivy Market Grill, WC2 (“nothing special, rather overpriced, and very busy”). See also Granary Square Brasserie.
“On a nice day in the garden, there couldn’t be a better way to have lunch!” (or an “amazing brunch”) than at the Chelsea Garden branch of Richard Caring’s bold brand-extension – “easily the best of the Ivy offshoots”. But even fans concede that “service could be better” and that “you don’t come here for the food”: “it’s all about that warm, buzzy atmosphere in glorious surroundings (outside in summer you’ll swear you are in the South of France, watching the Provencal rosé making its way around the beautifully dressed ladies-who-lunch!)” The other branches offer a similar trade-off, with the outlets in Kensington and by Tower Bridge (“incredible views from the picture windows”) both scoring well for ambience, although their “comfort food” offerings are even more “memorably mediocre” than in SW3. ‘Ivy in the Park’ which is to open in Canary Wharf is the most recently announced arrival in the group (at 50 Canada Square Park). On the overall concept, reporters are split. For a majority “although the spin-offs are not to be compared with the original Ivy, their name does help give a certain dignity to the experience”. For a significant number though, “the brand is being trashed” with these “pretentious, unimaginative, chichi and average” imitations: “Obviously I understand the idea is to shamelessly exploit and monetise The Ivy name, but this is taking it too far!!”
The vote remains fairly equally split on Richard Caring’s burgeoning bevy of Ivy spin-offs which are popping up like mushrooms ‘in carefully selected locations’ across the country. (These – the ‘Grills & Brasseries’ are not to be confused with the mere ‘Cafés’, and aim for a more faithful reproduction of the original’s magic). For ‘The Ayes’, they make “a great local addition” providing “great British food in a buzzy setting” (“I keep expecting to be disappointed, and I’m not!”). For ‘The Nays’, “hugely underwhelming food” and “uneven” standards generally make it “feel like they are trying to milk the franchise, but are destroying it in the process”. The most popular is the “ladies-who-lunch” favourite on the King’s Road, whose “garden is to die for” (although “it’s an uphill struggle actually being seated in it”) – a “super, bustling and tastefully decorated venue with fabulous people watching opportunities” (and where the Top Tip is “its great breakfast: it’s much quieter so service is spot on!)”.